Gymnastics and ballet are quite commonly practiced by individuals who started out when they were young. Watch rhythmic gymnastics during the Olympics and you will see how young many of these athletes are. For example, US gymnast, Dominique Moceanu started her training from as young as 3 years old, and later went on to represent the US at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. This 1996 team were nicknamed the “Magnificent 7” as they were the first American Women’s Gymnastics Team to win the Olympics team gold medal.
In the past year, we have been treating quite a few competitive gymnasts. Most of these girls are aged between 7 to 10 and are also involved in a near-daily training programme with their respective gymnastic teams. Most of their complaints are usually due to a wrist/elbow sprain, neck or low back pain and in some cases, a result of their scoliosis. As practitioners, we got quite concerned when we began to see more girls coming in regularly especially after we understood their training regime and the high level of competition these young girls are training at.
We’re glad that these parents have trusted our team of practitioners to ensure their daughters’ well-being are taken care of. This is important as these young girls are still physically developing and we want to make sure that their injuries do not bring any long lasting effects. We also make it a point to ensure that their parents are well-informed of the situation and we try to manage the expectations of each parent and child – especially when they are involved in an upcoming competition. To try and shed some light to our concerns as practitioners, we thought it would be a good idea to share some of our thoughts surrounding injuries sustained as a result of being involved in these types of sports.
Gymnastics is a type of sport that requires a high degree of flexibility to ones body. Therefore, it’s no surprise that most girls begin gymnastics early as the body is most flexible. When an individuals’ young body is subjected to the high level of intensity training on a (often) daily basis, it makes them prone to injuries. Individuals with conditions like moderate to severe idiopathic scoliosis and/or joint hyper mobility syndrome (JHS) are highly discouraged to take up gymnastics, as it may cause life-long injuries.
It’s always good for parents to pay close attention to their child’s complaint of any pain if their child is involved in any types of sport. Seek a medical professional’s opinion and make known to that practitioner the nature of sport your child is involved in. For example, with young gymnasts, our team will first assess the way the body moves in their extreme range of motion (ROM) and then teach them the need to control their muscles to reduce the risk of injury.
Another area of complaint we regularly get from young gymnasts is also in their lower back. This is due to their over-arched back (lumbar spine) which isn’t ideal. One of the ways to improve on that is to improve their core muscle control as well as to increase their flexibility from the mid and upper back (thoracic spine) and the shoulders. To check if a young gymnast is over-arching her back, try to get her to perform a backward bend, and check where the “hinge” point is. The “hinge” point should not be placed in the lumbar spine as this would exert much more pressure in the lower back causing pain.
If a young gymnast is beginning to complain of back pain and more when it is persisting for more than two weeks, it would be a good idea to consult a medical professional immediately. Preferably someone who’s familiar with the musculoskeletal nature of the body like a chiropractor, physiotherapist, orthopaedist or a sports doctor. Any pain expressed by a young gymnast should never be ignored or treated lightly as a “growing pains” as there may be an underlying injury that could have adverse long term effects to a child’s physical development.
Here at Spinefit, we always believe that prevention is certainly better than cure and the sooner an injury is detected, the higher the chances of recovery. This is why we believe that anyone who is involved in a highly competitive sport like gymnastics would benefit from regular chiropractic care and specific rehabilitative exercises, as this combination has showed promising results in preventing injuries among young gymnasts as well as optimising their performance.